Culture and the self in moral and ethical decision-making : a dialogical approach.
This study investigated isiZulu-speakers' conceptions of morality. The relationship between concepts of the self and morality was also explored, as were influences of gender, family and community on moral reasoning. Fifty-two participants of both genders were interviewed. The sample was drawn from urban, peri-urban and rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal. The participants were invited to tell a story involving a moral dilemma they had experienced in their lives. The resulting narratives were analyzed using an adapted version of the Relational Method, an analytic procedure developed by Gilligan and her colleagues (e.g. Brown & Gilligan, 1991) to analyze narratives of real life conflict. Respondents considered morality to be a state of connection or equilibrium between the person, other people, and his or her social milieu. Connection is characterized by caring, just and respectful relationships among people and everything to which they stand in relation. Immorality, which is characterized by relationships devoid of care, justice and respect, results from a breakdown in social and communal relationships. Conceptions of morality were found to be dependent on respondents' understanding of the self. The view that morality is characterised by connection was associated mainly with the communal or familial self. However, tensions were also noted between competing concepts of the self within the person, namely the communal and independent selves. These tensions complicated respondents' choices in the face of moral conflict. Gender was also found to influence moral reasoning: in the face of moral dilemmas involving gender, men were concerned with the preservation of their masculine identities, while women found themselves positioned powerlessly by culturally defined narratives of femininity. These results are discussed with reference to traditional African philosophical frameworks and dialogical theory. The implications of the study to psychological theory, social science research ethics and health-related intervention policies are highlighted.